A 6th Century Admonition to Destroy the Shrines of the Idols (St. Ceasarius of Arles, †542)

NOTE: The following sermon is taken from Sermons, Volume 1 (1–80) (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 31), Sermon 53, pp. 263-265:

St. Ceasarius of Arles

(1) It is a source of pleasure to us, dearly beloved, to see you faithfully coming to church, and for this we give the greatest thanks to God. Truly, this is becoming and proper for Christians, to hasten like good sons to their mother the Church with the greatest longing and true piety. But, although we rejoice at this, dearly beloved, to see you hasten faithfully to church, we are sad and we grieve because we know that some of you rather frequently go over to the ancient worship of idols like the pagans who have no God or grace of baptism. We have heard that some of you make vows to trees, pray to fountains, and practice diabolical augury. Because of this there is such sorrow in our hearts that we cannot receive any consolation. What is worse, there are some unfortunate and miserable people who not only are unwilling to destroy the shrines of the pagans but even are not afraid or ashamed to build up those which have been destroyed. Moreover, if anyone with a thought of God wants to burn the wood of those shrines or to tear to pieces and destroy the diabolical altars, they become angry, rave with fury, and are excited with excessive frenzy. They even go so far as to dare to strike those who out of love for God are trying to overthrow the wicked idols; perhaps they do not even hesitate to plan their death. What are these unfortunate, miserable people doing! They are deserting the light and running to darkness; they reject God and embrace the Devil. They desert life while they follow after death; by repudiating Christ they proceed to impiety. Why, then, did these miserable people come to church? Why did they receive the sacrament of baptism if afterwards they intended to return to the profanation of idols? Truly in them is fulfilled what was written: The dog is returned to his vomit: and the pig to his wallowing in the mire.’1 They do not fear what the Lord said through His Prophet: ‘He that sacrificeth to gods shall be put to death, save only to the Lord’;2 moreover, in the psalms: ‘All the gods of the Gentiles are devils, but the Lord made the heavens’; and again: ‘Let them be all confounded that adore graven things, and that glory in their idols.’3

(2) Therefore, brethren, whoever you are who have not done such wrong to the loving Christ, see to it that you never do so. Be careful lest those desperate, wicked men overwhelm you, and lest after Christ’s sacraments you return to the poison of the Devil. Rather, rebuke whomever you recognize as such, admonish them quite harshly, chide them quite severely. If they are not corrected, strike them if you can; if they are not corrected thus, pull their hair. If they still continue, tie them with bonds of iron, so that a chain may hold those whom Christ’s grace does not hold. Then, do not permit them to restore the shrine, but endeavor to tear to pieces and destroy them wherever they are. Cut the impious wood down to the roots, break up the altars of the Devil. Moreover, know this, dearly beloved, that when he is baptized every man is separated from the following and army of the Devil. However, if later on there is a return to the practice of that impiety which we mentioned before, Christ is immediately deserted and the Devil again takes hold. It would have been a less serious matter not to come to Christ than afterwards to desert Him, according to what the Apostle Peter says about the matter: ‘It were better for them not to have known the way of justice than, having known it, to turn back.’4

(3) We are saying, brethren, what is expedient for you. Eternal punishment will torture without any remedy whoever is unwilling to observe this. Some like to get drunk, some to commit adultery, others to entice the innocent, but afterwards they will not like to burn in eternal flames. Look, brethren, observe what we are saying, for no one can say that he was not warned. See how we shout and testify and preach; do not despise your herald if you want to avoid the Judge. However, concerning God’s mercy, we believe that He intends to give perseverance in good works to you, the faithful. Those who have committed some impiety He will inspire to hasten to do penance. Thus, by persevering in good after having been reformed from evil they will equally deserve to arrive at eternal bliss: with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns world without end.

NOTES

  • 2 Peter 2.22.
  • 22.20.
  • 95.5; 96.7.
  • 2 Peter 2.21.

 

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